Waiter! More Crayons

Is fine dining possible with kids? Dear Dara finds out.

They start out with a little espresso cup of peanut butter with celery sticks and carrot sticks. Hot entrees can be as simple as a quesadilla with fries ($6) or as complex as pasta Alfredo with chicken or a grilled chicken breast with mashed potatoes and green beans ($8). Dessert is a special, house-made ice-cream-cookie sandwich. The Napa Valley Grille even has Etch-a-Sketches and one DVD player they lend out to tables.

Meanwhile, one floor up, the California Café puts together kids'-meal bento boxes for $6.95, which include the kid's choice of three courses (salad or veggie snack; an entree such as angel hair pasta, grilled cheese, cheeseburger, chicken fingers, or baby back ribs; fresh fruit; and a fresh lemonade, milk, or juice). Of course, you can have that bento box out on the California Café patio, which overlooks the MOA roller coasters. If that isn't enough, right now the California Café is even running a Toddler Tuesday promotion, during which toddlers eat free.

Napa Valley Grille

Mall of America, 2nd Floor, Bloomington, 952.858.9934, www.napavalleygrille.com; California Café, Mall of America, 3rd Floor, Bloomington,612.854.2233, www.californiacafe.com

Well, Naomi, Steven, everybody, we've run out of room. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention high-living dining-with-kids hall-of-famers like Punch Pizza; the sister upscale diners of the Highland Grill, Edina Grill, and Longfellow Grill; and Broders' Pasta Bar (where 10-and-unders eat free on Mondays before 6:30 p.m. and can always have a child-size portion of their exquisite pasta Bolognese for $5.95).

Ooh, but don't forget St. Paul's opulent though budget-friendly Mai Village, with its ornate interior pagoda and adorable bridge over a koi-filled pond. At Edina's Salut Bar Americain there's a limited but very inexpensive $2.95 entree-and-beverage menu that encourages parents to spend even more on cocktails and oysters. And at Solera, the downtown Minneapolis Spanish tapas bar, a gourmet-minded family could have a world-class meal by, say, the two adults opting for the $29 eight-course tasting menu, and adding a few kid-friendly tapas to the spread, like ham and cheese croquettas or fried potatoes. I did this tasting menu a few months ago, and found the service to be fast-food fast, but the food itself to still be as good as anything you'd find in Barcelona.

Oh well, there are probably some I've left out, too, but this should give you something to do this winter. Drop me a line when it's time for a roundup of the best restaurants with large, empty parking lots in which to practice for a driver's license. 

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